In Painkiller, Netflix’s new opioid epidemic drama, West Duchovny isn’t portraying an actual individual. However in a way, she is. Her position of Shannon Schaeffer, an keen younger gross sales rep for Purdue Pharma, is fictionalized however based mostly on the true experiences of representatives who offered OxyContin to docs. What’s additionally actual is the hurt they have been complicit in. On this multifaceted ensemble saga—which follows a variety of views, from former Purdue Pharma president Richard Sackler (Matthew Broderick) to an injured mechanic battling dependancy (Taylor Kitsch)—Shannon provides a newcomer’s look contained in the billion-dollar enterprise that destroyed hundreds of lives. And it’s not fairly.
Duchovny (sure, David is her dad; Téa Leoni is her mother) was fittingly forged. As an up-and-coming actor, she imbued the character along with her personal curiosity, despite the fact that Shannon’s state of affairs is much extra excessive. A recent recruit from school, Shannon is naive and impressionable; she masters manipulation techniques shortly when Britt (Dina Shihabi), a extra skilled rep, mentors her. For instance, scenes in Painkiller present, as Patrick Radden Keefe reported in The New Yorker, that “Purdue instructed gross sales representatives to guarantee docs—repeatedly and with out proof—that ‘fewer than one p.c’ of sufferers who took OxyContin turned addicted.” This stat proved to be dangerously flawed. Nonetheless, Shannon is eliminated sufficient to clock when one thing feels unethical. The remainder of her colleagues are in too deep.
“That was an enormous a part of why I wished to do her justice,” Duchonvy says of Shannon. “I feel that she’s a very good individual, and I additionally was tremendous drawn to her energy and her work ethic and her tenacity. And she or he needs so badly to do nicely, and I feel that’s actually honorable. And likewise, she wasn’t simply that. There are ugly moments, and there are uncomfortable moments, and also you’re upset by her on the identical time.”
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Duchovny herself was “compelled to reconcile” with the “psychological gymnastics” Shannon went by to persuade herself that she’s doing good on this planet (and that her massive bonus checks are justified). “I simply assume it’s such a lesson within the tales, and narratives, that we make as much as let ourselves fall asleep at night time.”
Duchovny didn’t assume she would get forged. Even when she bought her audition, she doubted she’d land the job “as a result of I had actually nothing to point out for myself at that time, and I used to be like, it simply feels out of the realm of risk for me.” After sending in a tape, she anticipated a number of callbacks (“which I’d been by earlier than to no avail,” she admits), however director Pete Berg invited her to lunch, throughout which he picked her mind in regards to the character. Duchovny got here ready with concepts; she was “so obsessed” with Shannon. Per week later, the position was hers. “I used to be with my mother, and my managers referred to as me to inform me, and I used to be heaving, I used to be hyperventilating,” she says.
That cellphone name was in June of 2021, about two months earlier than the shoot. She labored along with her performing coach Warner Loughlin to “really feel safe within the character,” however she strategically held again from analysis. (The script is customized from the guide Ache Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic by Barry Meier and the New Yorker article “The Household That Constructed an Empire of Ache” by Patrick Radden Keefe.) Barring what she’d heard in regards to the Sackler household and the opioid disaster within the information, she wished Shannon’s discoveries, and discomfort, to be as real as her personal.
“I knew that there was materials on the market that I may take a look at, and I purposely selected to not, as a result of my character is studying as she’s going, and I felt like, to have the evils behind my thoughts from the start—I’d simply quite not. A whole lot of the nitty-gritty details that I used to be studying by the scenes have been so stunning, which felt actually cool to have the ability to have a extra genuine response.”
It was solely afterwards that she dove into the supply materials and different knowledge. “The fact of the state of affairs is so unbelievable, and the extra you discover out about it, the extra you study in regards to the particulars, the extra unbelievable it turns into. So, it’s fascinating in a very horrific method.”
Whereas Painkiller dramatizes and even satirizes components of the opioid disaster, actual folks carry it again all the way down to earth. Every episode begins with a disclaimer learn by the relations of actual victims who died because of OxyContin dependancy and abuse. They then go on to commemorate their family members with pictures and private tales, usually by tears. Duchovny says these scenes weren’t within the script; she didn’t know they might be added till she watched the episodes herself. “It’s an unavoidable reminder that that is occurring to actual folks.”
And if anybody else was going to remind viewers that, it’s Uzo Aduba’s Edie Flowers, a no-B.S. lawyer on the U.S. lawyer’s workplace tirelessly investigating OxyContin. Duchovny fawned on the prospect of sharing scenes with the Emmy winner. “I used to be so scared, and she or he gave me no cause to be scared as a human being. She’s so heat and so pretty, however I simply have a lot respect for her as an actor that clearly performing along with her, [I was] so intimidated. And I feel it, fortunately, works for my character, as a result of many of the scenes that I’ve along with her, that’s the dynamic.”
A Netflix sequence is a serious turning level for Duchovny, who beforehand appeared in SyFy’s The Magicians and Hulu’s Saint X earlier this yr. Wanting forward, she hopes to play “feminine characters which might be true to the human expertise” and “that each one their complexities are taken severely, they usually’re laborious to determine.” Her many dream collaborators embody Sam Rockwell and Meryl Streep.
Given her identify, Duchovny is clearly no stranger to the leisure enterprise, however she didn’t assume she would comply with in her dad and mom’ performing footsteps. When she would go to them on units as a child, she and her brother cared extra in regards to the junk meals that they weren’t allowed to eat of their wholesome family. “We’d simply all the time raid craft service after which go to the trailer, and simply eat,” she laughs, seated within the attic of her mother’s Connecticut residence. “Perhaps I watched a take right here and there, however that was so not fascinating.”
She was contemplating going pre-med earlier than turning into an English main at Brown College, from which she graduated in December. However a play she did earlier than school put her onto the entire performing factor. “I stayed so far-off from performing for many of my life…I did a play proper earlier than school only for enjoyable and was so confused. I’ve by no means felt this manner about something. I by no means felt so effortlessly obsessed with one thing. I had all this stuff and endeavors that I used to be pursuing, nevertheless it didn’t really feel pure in the way in which that it did after I acted. My dad and mom have been shocked. They have been like, didn’t see it coming.”
Then got here the problem of juggling college and dealing as an actor—“it was positively powerful to steadiness the 2.” Duchvony was at Brown when she filmed each Painkiller and Saint X. “I used to be taking lowered course masses, which is why it took me so lengthy [to graduate], however I might return to my trailer and do some work on my essay after which go to work. It was aggravating, however I feel it makes it extra fulfilling to be like, ‘Oh, I did that.’”
After all, it helps to have veteran actors within the household for steering, and Duchovny is aware of how fortunate she is. “It’s such a privilege to have two folks which were within the business for thus lengthy to seek the advice of and ask questions,” she says, sporting a button-down handed down from her father. “And it’s scary. It’s a scary job, and so, to have individuals who comprehend it so nicely, it’s very nice, however they completely keep out of my enterprise and let me do my very own factor…” Mother and pop are there for recommendation when she wants it, she says, “however they’re actually respectful of letting me determine it out by myself.”
One factor she has found out is that she needs to maintain going. “I really feel I’m new, and I’m so hungry for extra, and I simply wish to hold working and having the ability to honor these tales that basically make folks really feel.”
This interview was performed earlier than the SAG-AFTRA strike.
Erica Gonzales is the Senior Tradition Editor at ELLE.com, the place she oversees protection on TV, motion pictures, music, books, and extra. She was beforehand an editor at HarpersBAZAAR.com. There’s a 75 p.c likelihood she’s listening to Lorde proper now.